05/29/2015 3:18PM

Sparkman: Preaching from the Pulpit

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Barbara D. Livingston
Puplit, who stood at Claiborne Farm, died in 2012, but several of his sons are carrying on his branch of the A.P. Indy line.

In 20 years, will we be talking about the A.P. Indy male line, as we do now, or the male line of his most prominent current son, Pulpit?

Pulpit’s son Tapit led the American sire list last year with a record total and is more than $2 million clear at the top of the list again this year. Pulpit’s grandson California Chrome, by Lucky Pulpit, captured two classics and Horse of the Year honors in 2014 and has earned a good chance to extend a new branch of the Pulpit male line. And just last week, another good son of Pulpit, Sky Mesa, hit the headlines again when Sky Treasure won the Grade 2 Nassau Stakes on May 23 at Woodbine.

With the possible exception of 2006 champion 3-year-old male Bernardini, whose best sons to date are too young to have proven themselves, other successful stallions by A.P. Indy have shown little indication of extending their branches of the A.P. Indy male line. Flatter’s good son Flat Out will get a decent shot in Kentucky, and Flatter’s full brother Congrats is young enough and perhaps good enough eventually to sire a successor at stud. Camden Park’s international star son Jay Peg has shown some promise in South Africa, but his best son to date is a gelding. Malibu Moon’s Kentucky Derby-winning son Orb will get an excellent chance at Claiborne Farm, but none of Mineshaft, Old Trieste, Stephen Got Even, or Majestic Warrior has shown any indication of extending his own branch of the A.P. Indy male line. A.P. Indy’s last good sons, Honor Code and Commissioner, still are racing.

Pulpit was the first son of A.P. Indy to prove that the 1992 Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male was going to be a top-class sire. From the first crop of A.P. Indy, Pulpit was the first foal out of the Mr. Prospector mare Preach, a Grade 1-winning mare from a great Claiborne family.

Arthur B. “Bull” Hancock, father of Claiborne’s current president, Seth Hancock, purchased Pulpit’s fifth dam, Knight’s Daughter, by Sir Cosmo, for the equivalent of $7,350 at the 1951 Tattersalls Newmarket December sale. The first American-conceived foal Knight’s Daughter produced for Claiborne was Round Table, by Princequillo, the 1958 Horse of the Year and a three-time champion grass horse who won 43 of 66 lifetime starts and also led the American sire list in 1972.

Knight’s Daughter produced only one more foal after Round Table, his full sister, Monarchy, a talented filly who captured the 1959 Arlington Lassie Stakes, then the equivalent of a modern Grade 1 race. Monarchy produced the stakes winners Fabled Monarch, by Le Fabuleux, and Title, by Bold Ruler, plus the stakes-placed Blade, by Bold Ruler, a good sire considering his opportunity, and the unraced Envoy, by Bold Ruler, who was a good sire in California.

Monarchy’s winning daughter State, by Nijinsky II, produced five stakes winners, four of them at graded level, headed by the multiple Grade 2 winner Region, by Devil’s Bag, and her Grade 3-winning daughter Narrate, by Honest Pleasure, is the dam of Preach, winner of the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes.

In addition to Pulpit, Preach is the dam of the stakes-placed Tell It, herself dam of the stakes winner Dream Nettie, and the Group 3-placed Urban Poet. Pulpit’s full sisters Convent and Orate are stakes producers.

Narrate’s branch of Monarchy’s family has turned into a reliable source of sires over the last 20 years. Her daughter Yarn, a full sister to Preach, is the dam of the brilliant Grade 2 winner Tale of the Cat, by Storm Cat, leading sire of 2-year-olds in 2003, and second dam of the 2001 European and American champion 2-year-old male Johannesburg, by Hennessy, who has sired 66 stakes winners to date.

Pulpit’s racing career was brief but very high class. Unraced at 2 because of ankle issues, he made his debut at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 11, 1997, romping home by 7 1/2 lengths in a seven-furlong maiden special weight. A 6 3/4-length win in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race followed about a month later, and he followed up three weeks later by beating Blazing Sword by 1 1/2 lengths with Captain Bodgit third in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth.

Pulpit had moved a long way up the class ladder in a very short period of time, and the Florida Derby may have come a bit too soon. He did not show the same verve as in his previous races and had no answer when Captain Bodgit raced past him at the head of the stretch, finishing second, beaten 2 1/2 lengths. A month later, though, he was back to his best in the Blue Grass Stakes, running away from Acceptable in the stretch to win by 3 1/2 lengths in his most impressive performance.

That made Pulpit the morning-line favorite for the 1997 Kentucky Derby, and he ran with credit, dueling with Free House on the front end until well inside the quarter pole before fading to fourth in the final furlong. We will never know whether Pulpit’s faltering final furlong in the Derby was due to lack of stamina or physical issues, as his troublesome ankles flared up again, and he was retired not long after the Derby.

The interesting and unusual thing about Pulpit’s likely status as the head of a burgeoning sire line is that he was a good but not great sire. He made a good start with 2002 Grade 2 Super Derby winner Essence of Dubai (out of Epitome, by Summing) and three other stakes winners in his first crop, but his first Grade 1 winner, Sky Mesa (Caress, by Storm Cat), did not appear until his second.

Winner of the Grade 1 Hopeful in 2002, Sky Mesa, who stands at Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky, currently ranks as Pulpit’s second-best sire son. Sky Treasure (Preemptive Attack, by Smart Strike), winner of the recent Nassau Stakes at Woodbine, is one of 48 stakes winners and 17 graded winners sired by Sky Mesa from 680 foals age 3 and up. That number includes Grade 1 winners General Quarters (Ecology, by Unbridled’s Song), who stands at Crestwood Farm in Kentucky, and Sky Diva (Swift Girl, by Unbridled).

Tapit (Tap Your Heels, by Unbridled) may well be the only name we need to mention at the head of a dominant sire line in 20 years, though it is far too early to tell. Winner of the Grade 1 Wood Memorial in 2004, he has been an outstanding sire since champion 2-year-old filly Stardom Bound (My White Corvette, by Tarr Road) appeared in his first crop. Tapit’s first classic winner, Tonalist (Settling Mist, by Pleasant Tap), appeared right on schedule last year from his first crop from the better mares he earned with his early success, and it is very unlikely the 2014 Belmont winner will be his last classic winner. Tapit’s first significant son to go to stud, the Grade 2 winner Concord Point (Harve de Grace, by Boston Harbor), has made a promising start with three stakes winners in his first crop.

Sweet Basil (Lifeinthefastlane, by Unbridled’s Song), winner of the Alachua Stakes on May 23 at Gulfstream Park, is Pulpit’s 79th stakes winner from 921 foals age 3 and up. That 8.6 percent stakes winners-to-foals ratio is highly respectable in the contemporary era, but he never has sired an American champion or classic winner. Pulpit has sired 11 Grade 1 winners, headed by the 2009 Forego Stakes winner Pyro (Wild Vision, by Wild Again), who stands in Japan, and the 2007 Del Mar Oaks winner Rutherienne (Ruthian, by Rahy), in addition to Tapit and Sky Mesa.

A handsome, lengthy, correct, but very heavy-topped horse, Pulpit died unexpectedly in his paddock at Claiborne on Dec. 6, 2012, so his final 26 foals now are 2-year-olds. His legacy, though, is far from being fully established. Tapit is the best sire in America and among the top five in the world. Foreign buyers only recently have begun acquiring the offspring of Tapit, and since his progeny are readily adaptable to turf, it seems highly probable he will eventually sire a colt good enough to stand in Europe.

Sire lines are often unpredictable, but historically, they usually require multiple top-level sires in every generation to ensure their survival. Pulpit appears poised to buck that trend.